Athletics: Rediscovering Walter Engbretson a Warrior Hall of Famer

Walter Engbretson will be inducted into the Brainerd Warriors Athletic Hall of Fame 98 years after being voted "Best Boy Athlete."

Walter Engbretson
Walter Engbretson

BRAINERD — Before there was an all-sports banquet and Athlete of the Year honors, Walter Engbretson was voted “Best Boy Athlete.”

That was in 1925. Ninety-eight years later Engbretson was voted in as a member of the Brainerd Warriors Athletic Hall of Fame.

Engbretson’s honor will be received by his children Loree Yeager and Rolf Engbretson. Their father, along with current Warrior coaches Ellen Fussy and Dave Herath and former Warrior athletes Sara Wennerstrand and Chad Weiss, will be inducted into the hall Monday, May 1, during the Brainerd All-Sports Banquet at the high school.

Engbretson graduated from Washington High School in 1925 before attending Hamline College for a year and then earning his degree from Augsburg College in 1929.

While in Brainerd, Engbretson was a four-year varsity baseball player and a four-year varsity basketball player. He was captain of the boys’ basketball team during his junior and senior seasons.


Walter Engbretson
Walter Engbretson

He was a member of the theatre, he was a class treasure during his sophomore year and class vice president in his junior and senior years.

"He had a lifelong, deeply involved, unique in my knowledge as Brainerd Public Schools archivist, history with Brainerd Pubic Schools education as a student, teacher, class advisor, assistant coach and coach pre-dating the naming of Brainerd High School athletic teams as “Warriors” and then long after the name was adopted,” John Erickson, BPS archivist and curator said. “He has a presence in each of the three high schools BPS has had over its 150-year history (as of 2023), from the first built in 1884 and from which he graduated, to the second built in 1929 and in which he taught and coached from through most of his life, and the last built in 1968 (now updated) in which he also taught and coached from.

“Despite his stellar history, both athletically and professionally, virtually nothing has historically been said about him: By nature (he taught during my years in high school here), he was quiet and not demonstrative. But his presence in mentoring young men through athletics and students in leadership positions through his frequent years as an advisor to junior classes, is unequaled and likely never will be surpassed.”

Erickson spent time researching Engbretson who died in 1974 through the Brainerd Public Schools archives as well as Augsburg University Athletic Department.

“Wally as he was known here, or “Wallie,” as he was known in college, was a unique athlete, student, coach and educator – and by all accounts, a gentleman, he was, literally, called just that, in the Augsburg yearbook, as a college every turn through history,” Erickson said.

Walter Engbretson
Walter Engbretson

Erickson’s research reads: He began playing varsity basketball as a freshman. As a sophomore, he was referred to in the yearbook as a “scoring star.” He made a game-winning basket at the buzzer as a junior and then as a senior. He captained the 1924 and 1925 basketball teams. The basketball court was on an upper floor of the Washington High School and had an alarming -- especially on floors below -- spring in it. Engbretson was, by an enormous amount, the highest-scoring basketball player in his senior year. He was “a machine.”

In the custom of the day, when team pictures were made, one individual was selected to hold the ‘team ball’ presumably a sort of MVP statement upon which was written the year of that team. Engbretson held the team ball in 1924 and 1925.

Erickson’s research said because of Engbretson’s build he didn’t play football and there was no track and field during his prep days.


He did play baseball for four years. He played shortstop and pitcher.

“In an era when there were no team banquets or award dinners, but in which the classes had begun to vote on the ‘best’ of various things in student life,” Erickson said, “as a senior, Engebretson was voted Best Boy Athlete. It was a special tribute paid to him, and only him, as an athlete in the 1925 Brainonian, where his senior picture also included the words ‘He proved best man on the floor and for his meed was honored with a B.’”

Engbretson spent one year at Hamline before transferring to Augsburg in 1926. Erickson’s research found Engbretson playing baseball and basketball during his sophomore year of college. As a junior and senior he played basketball and tennis.

“The quotation accompanying his senior portrait at Augsburg reads: 'Athlete, gentleman, and scholar.'" Erickson said. “The 1929 Augsburg yearbook’s basketball page summarized: 'Wallie’ was the flashiest man we had. His speed and accurate shooting made him a very consistent player. We’ll miss him next year.”

Engbretson returned to Brainerd to teach history and coach to the end of his career in 1972.

He was an assistant boys' basketball coach and later coached intramurals during the 1960s. In 1956 golf began and for much of the decade, he was the head coach.

Engbretson died two years after retiring, but his accomplishments will now be enshrined in the Warrior Athletic Hall of Fame.

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or Follow on Twitter at


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Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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